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Review: Carla Bley plus Julian Siegel

Review: Carla Bley’s Lost Chords plus Julian Siegel Trio

(Queen Elizabeth Hall, London Jazz Festival, November 17th 2009)

I definitely feel the need to spare the reader today, to distil the strongest impressions from four-and-a-half hours spent at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last night into something crisp. If not quite Bridget Jones telegramese, then let every word from now on today fight for its place.

Joey Baron (above), the drummer in Julian Siegel ‘s trio needs to be seen. He is something else. He gives the impression that every single percussive hit on a drum or rim or cymbal is precisely, even superhumanly placed. He is intent and concentrated on his own performance, but those eyes, moving from left (to look at Cohen) and right (Siegel) are so alert and watchful. There’s linkedup energy in the stick movement and in the smile. Unbelievable. As one musican remarked to me, it must be completely daunting, because it feels as if Baron is never, never wrong. Alternative profession: tennis umpire, perhaps.

This trio is world-class. There is nothing Siegel cannot do on a tenor saxophone, the CD they recorded Live at the Vortex (Basho) is stunning, but they’re getting better. There was an accident. Baron suddenly found his stick disintegrating. Two, three bits flew off, and drumstick became a pencil stub. Without a single hit going astray.

Carla Bley has what the lonely hearts columns call GSOH. (A good/quirky/understated sense of humour like Bley’s should be available on prescription during the next six months of grubby electioneering which Britain is about to undergo.) The Lost Chords are what we need: a band where they are all constantly looking around for where the next laugh might be coming from.

In the interview before the gig Bley was remembering being a cigarette girl in Birdland, selling Paul Bley a packet of Luckies – that was the lonely heart sorted out with her GSOH once- writing for Paul Bley’s band , meeting Steve Swallow – that makes twice- and then musically building out a duo into the current quartet.

Highlights of ECM-ish beauty were the moody modal and Miles-y Lost Chords , and a sublime encore Útviklingssang. I loved the Weill-ish digging-in of Valse Sinistre. Drummond was ever-lively, Swallow impeccable and warm-toned, Sheppard fluent. But what I will remember- especially for when the politicians drone- is the anarchic chuckle of this band.

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